The following was originally posted on The Hill’s Congress Blog.
I was heartened to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s forceful and passionate condemnation of the Syrian government’s escalating atrocities against its own people. Then I learned that another branch of our government, the Defense Department, was forking over $1 billion to the largest single supplier of the Syrian military’s weapons. Even worse, the company, Rosoboronexport, is a state-run company of one of the two United Nation’s Security Council members who vetoed the most recent emergency resolution against the escalating violence and mass murder – Russia.
I don’t know why a contract with this company is so important to the Pentagon, but whatever is being purchased is not worth the price. The Pentagon is making a $1 billion mistake that is helping the number one supplier of weapons to the killing machine of Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, it is undermining U.S. credibility as the Obama administration calls for the international community to increase economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime.
Rosoboronexport has now sold over $4 billion in weaponry to the Syrian regime to assist with its massacre of its own people. The U.S. is providing $375 million in Department of Defense contracts to the very same company, at the same time. According to reports, there are options for $550 million in additional purchases, raising the total value to nearly $1 billion. This is unconscionable and must end immediately. The death toll of those on the receiving end of Rosoboronexport weapons, and other lethal munitions at the hands of the Syrian government, is quickly approaching 8,000.
Recent reports confirm that Russian weapons have been found at the site of ongoing atrocities in the Syrian city of Homs. In January 2012, Rosoboronexport signed a deal with Syria to sell 36 combat jets capable of hitting ground targets. Most recently, the head of the company openly expressed his intention to continue supplying arms to Syria.
The Defense Department should stop keeping such bad company.
When I was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and its Procurement Subcommittee, I took Congressional oversight of Pentagon spending quite seriously. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s scheduled appearance before Senate Armed Services committee on Wednesday, March 7 to discuss Syria offers a necessary opportunity to ask tough questions about these contracts that contradict U.S. policy on Syria. Whatever the response, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees should address this issue in their forthcoming Defense authorization bills.
While it is true that you cannot legislate common sense, sometimes – when common sense seems nowhere to be found – you have to try.